adventures in nature

Posts tagged “california

2015 Nov 04 – bobcats, hauntings and happy Samhain

It was a tough day for our track and sign study, due to very high winds on the coasts of Mendocino and Sonoma counties that scoured the pages of our sand clear – but luckily the animals seemed to accommodate us by showing themselves in person.

IMG_1499 v1BOBCAT / Sonoma County CA

IMG_1500 v1bobcat / Lynx rufus

This Bobcat showed itself just outside the “Mirkwood of Sonoma County” – seriously, best analogy I can provide for this area. I can’t even begin to describe in words the experience that I had last night, nearby to where this photo was taken, at what turned out to be a “haunted” house that I stayed in, unintentionally. Very, very, strange happenings. Yes, I wrote “haunted house.”

20151103_164121Enter ye who dare … into Sonoma County’s “Mirkwood”!!!!!

It was extremely weird and uncomfortable. But perfect for the season, I suppose.

Happy Samhain and Halloween to all, this is the week of the celebration of the coming of the dark time of year, when the days are short and the nights are long … and when the veil between the living and the dead is slight! November 7th is officially the “cross-quarter” day, equi-distant between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice – though it is officially celebrated on Nov 1st.

IMG_1505 v1bobcat / Lynx rufus

IMG_1512 v1bobcat / Lynx rufus

Beautiful animal!


2015 Nov 04 – red crossbills

a flock of red crossbills made an appearance on the southern border of Mendocino County in CA on this day – interesting to see the way the flock moved, very distinctive.

colors – amazing.

a rare visitor here …

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females are yellow and the males are red – the flock was composed of about 30 birds, slightly more males than females.

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2015 Nov 04 – ferruginous hawks have arrived!

These pictures are dedicated to LB and West County Hawk Watch – much love and respect for your passion, dedication, mentoring, generosity, trust and expertise. One of the first FEHA’s that I ever saw was with Larry, and to this day, every time I see one, I think of you my friend.

These birds have arrived to take up residence for the winter from their summer breeding grounds in the plains, and I am always excited to see them – largest of our native hawks.

IMG_1470 v1juvenile Ferruginous Hawk(s) / Mendocino County CA

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2015 Oct 28 – It’s that time …

The owls are back in their autumn cycle, starting to claim their territories.

IMG_1402 v1-2GREAT-horned Owl / Wildcat Canyon Regional Park , East Bay CA


2015 Oct 11 – the voles are back! (and a tropical kingbird)

We are seeing quite a bit of vole sign once again in the Bay Area, which is a good for most animals around here, except of course for the voles, really – they are one of the top items on the menu for many many animals. It’s interesting that they’ve rebounded right now in the worst part of the drought here in California. We noticed a severe drop in their numbers about two or three years ago (which is a normal part of their cycle), but it’s a good sign that they’ve returned. Now we just need some water.

These small rodents that resemble mice move mostly above ground, and they tend to create “runs” as they utilize the same pathways over and over. These runs create little tunnels in the grass and sometimes recessed runways in the ground.

a “vole’s-eye view” of a vole tunnel in the grass / Sonoma County CA

overhead view of vole grass tunnel or “run” (on right), clear area on left has vole scats

vole scats

re-purposed gopher hole – voles have excavated this old gopher hole to use as shelter

There seems to be a very marked decrease in the frequency of raptor sightings the last two years in this area, by my observation – and though it’s difficult to determine why this might be, certainly the vole population crash coupled with the severe drought must be a one-two punch that all predators on the landscape are experiencing.

Bring on the rains, el Nino!!!

We also saw a Tropical Kingbird today, which is a very rare visitor to this area (a type of flycatcher). The pictures were taken through a lot of fog, but we had good views of the bird hunting and perched for five minutes at least. Our friend Moss made the ID, based on the notched tail (differentiating it from a Western Kingbird). Nice sighting!

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2015 Oct 11 golden eagle, dark morph red-tail, and vultures

I was driving down a road in Sonoma County today and noticed a large kettle of turkey vultures flying above an agricultural area – probably numbering almost 40 birds! It was somewhat unusual, and certainly not something I’ve seen yet this year. I pulled over to take another look, knowing that often golden eagles will “hitch” a ride along with a group of vultures. As I was counting the vultures, boom!

Eagle!

IMG_1380 v1Golden Eagle in a kettle of Turkey Vultures / Sonoma County CA

I followed the kettle, which conveniently for me also was following the road in my direction! I made a number of stops as I followed it, and during my final stop the Eagle was kind enough to turn around and do a fly-over for me.

IMG_1339 v1juvenile Golden Eagle / Sonoma County CA

Such a beautiful bird –¬† as I observed it I noticed that it lacked any under-wing white patches, but its uniform feather coloring and uniform-length flight feathers indicated that it was probably a first-year hatch bird. It appears it has lost one of its left secondary feathers, which initially made me think perhaps it was older and undergoing a molt, but I still think this bird is a hatch year bird (meaning it hatched this spring).

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As it glided back past me and rejoined the group of vultures, a dark morph Red-Tailed Hawk took exception to its presence and launched after the Eagle from its perch among a grove of eucalyptus trees, screaming loudly as it flapped quickly towards the larger bird …

 IMG_1367 v1vocalizing adult dark morph Red-Tailed Hawk / Sonoma County CA

IMG_1369 v1adult dark morph Red-Tailed Hawk / Sonoma County CA

The Red-Tail launched into the kettle and did a few dives at the Eagle, but they were half-hearted attempts – more bark than bite. The kettle of vultures, with the Eagle still flying in it, slowly floated away from the Red-Tail’s territory as it retreated back to a perch in the trees.

Here in the West, especially towards the coast it seems, we have more frequent occurrence of “dark morph” Red-Tails (they have a very diverse variety of feather patterns and tones), and often I’ve seen people mistake these birds for Eagles. To the untrained eye, this is totally understandable. But when you see the two together, there is little doubt about the ID. Golden Eagles are quite a bit larger, have distinctly different plumage when observed closely, different wing shapes, and different shapes/silhouettes when viewed from below. Turkey Vultures are only slightly smaller than Eagles, and both can hold their wings in a slight dihedral shape when soaring – to the naked eye they can appear very similar – but upon viewing them with binoculars, they also have very different silhouettes and feather colors, and an experienced observer can distinguish the two from each other even without binoculars.

IMG_1372 v1“bird on a mission” – adult dark morph Red-Tailed Hawk / Sonoma County CA

IMG_1322 v1nice comparison of a Turkey Vulture (left) and a juvenile (but full-size) Golden Eagle (right) /Sonoma County CA

It was really fun to see all the Vultures, the Eagle and the dark Red-Tail on this beautiful NorCal “summer” day.

IMG_1361 v1juvenile Golden Eagle / Sonoma County CA


2015 Oct 07 – hawk hill merlin, ravens and red-tails

beautiful day up on hawk hill, filled with friends, hazy blue skies, and a good number of migrating birds and butterflies.

IMG_1278 v1RED-TAILED HAWK / hawk hill, marin county ca

as i arrived there we had a great look at a merlin that flew not too far overhead (a merlin is a type of small falcon, larger than a kestrel but smaller than a peregrine falcon) – it appeared to be a juvenile. they are fairly uncommon here in the bay area, but they pass through during migration time from their breeding grounds to the north – and in the time of short days we get a boost in the population as some choose to spend the winter here.

IMG_1185 v1MERLIN / hawk hill, marin county ca

the humans congregated on top of the hill with their scopes and binos, calling out every moving bird within a couple of miles. it’s a rather bizarre experience, to see all these people perched on the high hill for hours at a time every day for three months of the year, but wonderful that so many committed volunteers take their time to do this. as everyone was focused afar, two resident ravens, a male and female pair, landed very close by to watch the watchers.

IMG_1226 v1RAVENS with golden gate in background / hawk hill, marin county ca

RAVENS with golden gate in background / hawk hill, marin county ca

we chuckled as we realized that i was watching the birds, who were watching the other people, who were watching the other birds! these two hung around for quite a while, intrigued by the activity of the people (and likely looking for some dropped food as well). occasionally they would come very close to each other, making quiet croaking noises as one of them would groom the other’s face area. it was so endearing. and at such close quarters, in the bright sun, i could really see the intelligence in their eyes. amazing, beautiful animals.

IMG_1241 v1RAVENS grooming – or perhaps a literal “peck on the cheek?”

IMG_1244 v1-2RAVENS / hawk hill, marin county ca

IMG_1233 v1RAVEN / hawk hill, marin county ca

we saw a lot of accipiters today, as expected, but were also treated to a number of ferruginous hawks, several merlins, and some late-in-the-day peregrines. after most people had packed up for the day and i was leaving the hill, a red-tail floated overhead to hunt the area and allowed for some really fun pictures …

IMG_1267 v1RED-TAILED HAWK / hawk hill, marin county ca

IMG_1270 v1-2RED-TAILED HAWK / hawk hill, marin county ca

IMG_1276 v1RED-TAILED HAWK / hawk hill, marin county ca

the colors on this bird are amazing, and for an adult it has a very light eye (iris). so beautiful. thank you, my good friend!

as always happens when one packs up to leave, birds start showing themselves and tempting you to stay. as i started down the trail, one last juvenile northern harrier tried to keep me on the hill.

IMG_1286 v1juvenile NORTHERN HARRIER (aka MARSH HAWK) / hawk hill, marin county ca

 

 

 


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hunting male American kestrel / SF East Bay CA

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20150913 salmon creek wander

Beautiful day out by Salmon Creek in Sonoma County – a bit of sun before the marine layer rolled in thick like a fluffy down comforter over the beaches and dunes. Lots of red and gray fox track and sign, even more striped skunk track and sign. Almost no new rabbit sign. I’m beginning to think that perhaps the area is like an animal beach-condo timeshare – evidently the skunks have it this time of year and the rabbits are vacationing elsewhere.

This red-tailed hawk has some really interesting plumage, it reminds me of a bird I saw once in the high desert in Washington. You can see there is tan mixed in with the brown and white on the back, and its head and especially neck feathers are really light. Beautiful bird, very striking.

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This osprey and I were able to see eye-to-eye today on composing this photo. Much appreciated! Their eyes are HUGE compared to the rest of their head.

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We watched a coyote hunting from across the creek for quite some time, it seemed to be stalking through the high grass, occasionally stopping to dig or pounce. Sometimes it would get really excited and stand with its ears facing the ground, while its tail whirled around like a helicopter blade behind it! It made a short trip to the waters edge, but all the water fowl were already tuned-in to its presence. A doe and two fawns watched it with interest from within 50 feet – the coyote didn’t even give them a look. Rodents and insects seemed to be on the menu today. So fun to watch this guy hunt!

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The pounce!

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We had quite a few nice red fox trails to study today, this is a good example of a classic red fox track (front foot on the bottom). The diagnostic “bar” in the metacarpal pad of the front foot is very evident in this track – it’s not always clear, but if it is it can be one helpful sign (of many) to differentiate red fox tracks from coyote tracks.

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I didn’t get a picture, but we observed what we believed to be two or three pomarine jaegers (a type of flying sea bird) offshore attacking some elegant terns out at an area where many birds were feeding. It was my first sighting of this species, and evidently it’s uncommon to see them from shore (usually they are seen from boats further out to sea). There were quite a few dead murres along the beach, these are also ocean-going birds, but curiously they come onshore almost exclusively to die. Often people see these birds on the beach and try to save them, not realizing that they are already doomed. Many a kind-hearted person has been confused and heart-broken trying to help these birds. I photographed one last year down towards Moss Landing near Monterey. They look a bit like penguins when they are sitting or moving out of the water.

Down on the beach there was a large flock of marbled godwits feeding in the surf line, using their long beaks to probe in the sand for crustaceans – occasionally they would flush and fly down the beach all together.

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Great day out on the coast, very thankful to live close by to such natural beauty.


20150907 owl pics

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great-horned owl / Contra Costa County CA (East Bay Regional Parks)

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Tonight I gifted with another evening watching the sunset with Lady Owl (of the “bottom of the hill” pair) – another exquisite early autumn night.


20150906 observations of the season

One of my favorite times of year – things are shifting! The patterns are changing all over, some more subtle than others. I’m hearing and seeing new birds as they pass through on their way south, and the resident birds and animals are starting to shift their patterns as well. Fox squirrels seem to be everywhere I turn, busy running and gathering. The mornings are sunny and there’s a slight crispness in the air starting to build, almost a bit electric. The light has a softness to it, despite the heat that today was above 90 deg F in the immediate Bay Area. Not easy weather, to, um, weather, for a landscape already parched with drought. Even the winds have gone elsewhere, allowing a degree of peace to settle over the stressed landscape. Sitting still I can hear bugs crawling through the leaves, and the occasional falling leaf even makes a sound as it falls through the dry undergrowth to join its crunchy fallen partners on the ground, who are now having the chance to use their voice – while not drowned out by Wind – to announce Coyote or Deer moving nearby. So fun!

IMG_0917 v1-2fox squirrel chowing on juniper berries

Things are incredibly dry here – you can read about it all over in the news, worst drought in over a century and possibly since settlers have been keeping records here. But, to really understand it all one needs to do is to go out to FEEL it and see it yourself. Springs and creeks are dry. The evergreen trees, such as the live oaks, are even losing some of their leaves (which I understand is a drought response tactic to minimize moisture loss). Many of the under story leaves and any leaves not at the top of the tree or on the exteriors have fallen away, to varying degrees, depending on the location of the trees. I’m able to see wood rat nests high up in canopies that were very difficult to see before. Even the California buckeyes, who are some of the first obvious beacons of autumn since they lose their leaves before most other deciduous trees, have been bare for weeks in some locations. Redwoods and cedars are looking wilted and brown. Even the non-native eucalytpus trees look scraggly. A fine dust encapsulates many of the leaves, and the hillsides are painted brown with wilted grasses.

I’m happy to report that I’m doing my best to help conserve water – infrequent showers, I don’t clean my bathroom, and I occasionally drink distilled beverages instead of water (the distillation process releases water back into the atmosphere – that’s science). Little gestures, they add up.

One benefit of the trees being thinned out (if one wants to be a “glass half-full type of person” – though a water analogy is probably not appropriate here), is that there aren’t many places for a large bird to hide. Until about two weeks ago, I was seeing with some regularity a family of Cooper’s hawks hanging in one particular area. I thought it was interesting that they were all still together this late in the season – the migration has begun for many birds already. The first day that I saw them, about three weeks ago, two juveniles suddenly appeared indiscreetly in the branches 20 feet above my head, crashing around either chasing each other or chasing potential prey (a bird). They finally settled into the interior live oaks next to me, and soon were joined by an adult. A few days later, I saw the same trio in a nearby tree near sunset. I don’t know much about these hawks’ chick-rearing patterns, but I couldn’t help but wonder if these hawks stay around parents longer than some other raptor species to learn from them. It could be a late nest, but it seems extremely late if so. Cooper’s hawks (and sharp-shinned hawks, their mini look-alikes) often tandem hunt in pairs, one flushing birds as the other wake hunts and catches them. Could it be that this is a learned behavior?

Of course I must mention the owls.

IMG_0950 v1great-horned owl

This gal has been very visible the last few nights in her “typical” spot, though it’s been a number of months since I’ve seen her with regularity. The male and the female do not seem to be together much this time of year, and I am convinced the male is roosting in a grove of trees about 1/2 mile away from the spot the females frequents, an area that seems to be their core area during mating season. She let me watch her as she was waking up two nights ago, doing some preening and stretching, then she hit “snooze” for a bit after she placed a hex on someone or something evidently right behind me …

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This photo was interesting, I wish I could have gotten both birds in focus – do you see it?

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Hummingbird came in to scold the owl! It hung around for a minute or so, just behind the owl.

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The next night, I wandered without my camera but was excited to get to spend some time with the female owl again. After she flew off to look for breakfast, I followed her out a path under the fading light of the sun that had already disappeared behind the mountains to the west. As I was about to crest a hill and descend into a small valley, another raptor caught my eye – juvenile cooper’s hawk! Likely one of the juveniles from the trio described earlier, though I didn’t see any of the others. This young one did some flights through some small oaks attempting to scare up some birds from their night perch, then having failed to get any takers, it landed on an old wood fence post and began to vocalize repeatedly – in what felt to me like frustration and irritation. It’s not easy being a young raptor (many species up to 70% don’t survive their first year). The young one made another attempt, alighted on a high tree nearby, then took off after three flying birds (who were not keen on the company).

As it finally flew off, I heard some coyotes howling just beneath me! I silently walked in that direction – then … crunching! Coming my way! I froze, and sure enough one, then another, then another appeared in the fading light. They didn’t seem to see me (or maybe they just didn’t care), once they all were in line together they trotted with purpose to the south to start their nightly excursions.

Last sounds I heard were the crickets calling as I walked through the “portal,” and the sound of cars from the highway took over the soothing sounds of nature. I’m so grateful for the parks that we have here in the Bay Area, like many of the creatures around, I wouldn’t survive here without them.


20150711 – finally!! young owls

I had pretty much given up on seeing baby owls in the area I typically roam, despite there being about five pairs that I see with some regularity. I’ve seen some in other areas, all fledged, flying and without any downy white feathers left on them. Tonight during twilight with very little light left in the sky I finally heard that familiar sound – a young owl! I made my way in the direction of its call, and sure enough, there it was – along with a brother or sister nearby. The pictures are rough with so little light, but they allowed me to get very close to them as we looked at each other in wonder.

young great-horned owl

young great-horned owl

young great-horned owl

young great-horned owl

young great-horned owl

young great-horned owl

young great-horned owl

young great-horned owl

These two still have some of their white downy feathers, but they are able to fly. They are from a nest that is likely on private property right next to the park – I see the parents with some frequency in the park, but this is the first time I’ve seen or heard young owls from any of the three pairs of adult owls that I see most often. This pair also had at least one youngster last year. I’m excited to see them again soon, maybe even with some better light.


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20150711 red-tail

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red fox kits! (and the evolving red fox native versus native discussion)

After a twilight meander in Wildcat Canyon Regional Park, as I was leaving the park and driving through a heavily wooded riparian area, I saw a small form pop out of the shadows on the side of the road. I stopped. A second form popped up along side the first. Moments later, a third little form darted across the road from the other direction! Small canines with white tips on their tails and black on the backs of their ears – red fox kits! I returned two nights later in hopes that they were still using the same den, and I was in luck. Using my vehicle as a blind, I was able to get some shots of the four kits along with a grainy shot of one of the adults who came by briefly. I’m guessing they are about five weeks old.

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The kits were particularly intrigued by a sound in the vegetation on the hill behind their den, which turned out to be a black-tailed mule deer feeding. The deer eventually came down on the road, and it was like a scene from a Disney movie with all the fox kits, a deer, and one of the adult foxes all just milling about on the road. The deer seemed unfazed by all the foxes, but the kits were fascinated with this long-legged creature that came in their midst.

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There was a street lamp that gave some light to the area, but as you can see the light was far from ideal for clear photos. I was happy to be able to capture what I was given.

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Here is a shot of one of the adults to give a scale to the size of the kits …

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Watching them play and wander around the area was magical, they were curious about their surrounding but still stayed within about 20 feet of the den. When an occasional car would drive by, they would dive into the storm drain, wait a few moments, then little heads would pop out to see if the area was clear. They still weren’t in full control of their bodies yet, tripping over their own legs and bowling over each other with little attacks and hops. When the adult was present, they exuberantly raced to “attack,” or just to nuzzle and see if mom or dad had some food or a new toy (there were feathers from several species of birds around the den, the kits seemed to be playing with them at times).

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After about 10 minutes, the four furry bodies started to slow down, and two had already disappeared back into the den. With a few final stretches, the remaining two went back in the den to rest after their short play time.

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This was my first encounter with red foxes in this area, and though they aren’t unusual in urban areas around the country, I was somewhat surprised to see them. I spend a lot of time in this area and haven’t seen anything but gray foxes and coyotes so far. LOTS of gray foxes and coyotes. The grays tend to stay in the heavily wooded areas not far from the riparian creek zone lower in this park, the coyotes rule in the more open areas higher in the park where cows are still grazed.

I find it ironic that often densities and sighting of wild animals are higher near human development. It’s always a little perplexing and slightly embarrassing when I spend a lot of time out in the more “wild” areas and don’t see as many wild animals, then upon returning into more urban or suburban areas suddenly they are all over the place. I get excited about seeing a bobcat out in a park, then I see a story about a 14 year old kid snapping a pic of a wild mountain lion in his aunt’s backyard with a cell phone. C’mon! Seriously? Especially now though, in the middle of a drought, this is not surprising. Water is more available near human development, and prey animals tend to be attracted to the vegetation and other larder sources around human development – gardens, garbage, etc. And where they prey go, the predators follow. This is a simplified explanation, as wildlife corridors also factor into areas where animals can be found, but it generally holds true it seems.

The red foxes that are found in the Bay Area are usually considered non-native, a lineage of red foxes that descends from European red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) that were introduced into the U.S. for hunting and fur harvest long ago. They have been extremely successful in adapting to life here, especially in urban areas – but often to the detriment of many native species. Their presence can be divisive due to this, but then again so is the presence of feral cats.

To complicate things, there are at least two other identified red fox species in California, and they are actually natives – one is called the Sierra Nevada red fox (Vulpes vulpes necatur) and is extremely rare. That fox has only been currently been identified as living in the Sierra Nevadas and Cascades, East and North of the Central Valley. Recent research though has also identified what is being called a sub-species of the native Sierran red foxes, and these are found in the Central Valley and called, creatively, Central Valley red foxes (Vulpes vulpes patwin). Confusing!! So, there is a possibility of these foxes being native, or a hybrid, but given the proximity to the immediate Bay area, and the ecology, odds are probably more in favor of it being of the introduced type. The ecology is what seems to define where these species can be found (Central Valley preferring open grassland habitat, Sierra preferring montane zones, and non-natives thriving in marsh, riparian, and urban areas). Interbreeding seems a likely possibility, but research still seems scant.

Here and here is some interesting information on the Central Valley red fox (V.v. patwin). And this is an interesting blog post from 2010 about the Sierra Nevada red fox.

I will mention that when I saw the adult fox (albeit under poor lighting), it appeared different than I expected – less fur (shorter coat) and more subdued coloring, almost like a coyote. But, given the brief encounter and the poor light, that doesn’t mean much. I’ve seen at least one other online posting of a nearby sighting of a red fox in or near Wildcat Canyon Regional Park, but they certainly don’t seem to be common there (or at least commonly sighted). Most of the sighting seem to occur at parks in the more marshy areas closer to the Bay.

The native versus non-native investigation still seems to be evolving with regard to red fox populations here, it will be interesting to see what future research reveals.

Regardless of the genetic make-up and heritage of these animals, it was a delight to watch them play and to know that another wild animal is surviving and making a living here in the shadow of human civilization. We are inundated with news of how animals are negatively impacted due to human influence, so it’s reassuring to sometimes see first-hand a “success.” There are few things that lift the heart more than watching puppies or kittens, but to see wild ones close and in person is a whole other experience, one that I am truly thankful for and will never forget.


2015 apr 4 foxy lady

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gray fox @ point reyes national seashore CA

ATTITUDE. marking territority, not so concerned with us. on a mission to mark its space before the rains.

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2015 mar 11 – the owls and venus

some pictures from a few weeks ago that i am late to post, taken with my mobile phone – great-horned owls and venus

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same night, another great-horned owl with venus and mount tam in background with city lights

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2015 mar 31 – dark-morph swainson’s hawk

dark morph swainson's hawk / yolo county ca

dark morph swainson’s hawk / yolo county ca


2015 Feb 20 – owl voyeur (mating of the owls)

For the last two weeks, on at least six different nights, I’ve seen one of the pairs of owls who inhabit the area of my regular wanders mate. Owl love-making, owl coitus. Oh yeah.

I’ve gotten some decent audio recordings of it (wow, that sounds weird), but finally on Friday night I got a few photos (now it sounds even weirder). Owl voyeurism, what can I say. Happy they felt comfortable, and I take it as a sign that I’m doing a good job of making my presence unknown or, if they see me, not to put stress on the animals. I feel confident saying that they probably didn’t feel stressed.

It was past sunset, so the natural light was not so good, but it was really amazing to see, hear, and it left just enough light to photograph.

First, the female came out from her roost and was making vocalizations, presumably inviting the male in for some fun with that, um, sexy penetrating gaze?

female great-horned owl

female great-horned owl

After a few minutes, her seductive gaze shifted to a spot on the live-oak tree about 20 feet away where the male owl alighted …

female great-horned owl gazing at male

female great-horned owl gazing at male

The male perched on the other side of the same oak tree, surveying the surroundings (trying to look cool and non-nonchalant, I think).

handsome fella, ready for love - male great-horned owl

handsome fella, ready for love – male great-horned owl

Within a minute of the two being perched together on top of the tree, the male flew over and mounted the female to mate. Owls evidently aren’t so much into the foreplay stuff. Or, it’s indiscernible to human observers.

They sounded like a mixture between chimpanzees and some sort of song bird rapidly singing. It starts with a repetitive low “hoo hoo hoo” that sounds like a chimp or orangutang and quickly turns into a high frequency chirping sound. All in all in takes about 3 to 5 seconds. Fast and furious, a short but evidently fulfilling rendezvous. Not that you could tell by their reactions afterwards.

great-horned owls mating

great-horned owls mating

great-horned owls mating

great-horned owls mating

great-horned owls mating

great-horned owls mating

post-coitus great-horned owls

post-coitus great-horned owls (female on right with tail still raised)

Afterwards, there was no cuddling. They both seemed pretty stand-offish, ready for breakfast …

the after-glow? post coitus GHOW's.

the after-glow? post coitus GHOW’s.

Within a minute or so, the male flew off to start hunting for the night.

male GHOW flies off, fun is done

male GHOW flies off, fun is done

Hopefully I’ll see some owlets sometime soon.


peregrine falcon perch

A few weekends ago I was trailing a bobcat around a lagoon at Point Reyes National Seashore, when suddenly I realized we were being watched. I looked up and scanned the sandy dunes, and almost immediately my eyes locked in on it. A peregrine falcon. Sitting on one of the highest dunes that surrounds the lagoon, watching us.

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It allowed us to get pretty close as we followed the bobcats trail, then finally flew off across the lagoon with powerful wing beats. I was hoping to find some good tracks, but upon inspecting the dune there were none in the loose sand. What I did find however, was what appeared to be a regular dining spot for this bird. Strewn all across the dune were bones, feathers, and regurgitated pellets.

dinner with a view

dinner with a view – from atop falcon dune perch

The pellets were very light, composed mostly of tiny, downy, under-feathers of what likely once belonged to some type of shore bird species. Compared to the pellets of most mammal-eating bird species, they contained virtually no bones.

probable peregrine falcon pellets

probable peregrine falcon pellets

bobcat, coyote and turkey vulture tracks along lagoon

a bobcat, two coyotes and two turkey vultures left some tracks here along the lagoon

 


2015 Feb 11 – venus and the owl

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As I was returning from an evening wander, I rounded a corner and started ascending a ridge under a twilight sky that held a bit of vibrant dark blue that was stubbornly unyielding to the engulfing blackness of the night sky. As I looked up, I saw one of the owls perched with the planet Venus as a backdrop. I think they are getting used to me – it eventually let me pass by at a distance of no more than 10 to 15 feet as I continued on my way after snapping some pictures.

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The picture below was from a few nights ago, they perch on top of these trees almost every evening after leaving their day roosts. They hoot and coo and squawk to each other there before going out to hunt, or sometimes just sit in silence together. And, at least during this past week, they have been mating there as well – something I’ve gotten to witness twice in the last few nights!

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2014 Dec 28 owls

great-horned owl with golden gate bridge in background at sunset

great-horned owl with golden gate bridge in background at sunset

It’s been amazing to hear all of the vocalizations that the great-horned owls make, especially now during courting time. One of the pair seems to greet the other after they leave their roosts with a croaking screech sound from a nearby tree, then when the pair comes together one of them makes a repeated chirping sound, something that you’d expect to come from a plush toy or something similar. It’s a fast series of soft, muffled cooing-chirp-toots. Even the common “hoot” changes in frequency, cadence, and number of hoots in a grouping when they are addressing each other. It’s very endearing.

Tonight this pair was hanging out together as usual lately Рand talking to one another Рon their favorite  tree, a big live oak. I felt lucky to watch and listen.

great-horned owl pair / Contra Costa County CA

great-horned owl pair / Contra Costa County CA


owl tracks

One night while watching one of the pairs of great-horned owls where I wander, I stumbled on what is likely one of the pair’s tracks – right in the middle of a cow pattie! Pretty awesome. Good substrate is hard to come by in this area for registering tracks, especially if there is no rain – you make do-do with what you got.

(I know, I know, bad tracking humor)

great-horned owl track in in cow dung / Contra Costa County CA

great-horned owl track in in cow dung / Contra Costa County CA

great-horned owl track in a cow dung / Contra Costa County CA

great-horned owl track in a cow dung / Contra Costa County CA

Likely one of the track makers from that same evening …

great-horned owl pair / Contra Costa County CA

great-horned owl pair / Contra Costa County CA


2014 nov 3 mystery bird of the night

The last few nights, and once about a week ago, I saw a small flying creature flit about well after sunset up in the hills. At first i thought it was a large bat, then considered that perhaps it was a small owl – but neither option seemed to fit the behavior or size. The exposed area and hunting style didn’t match any nocturnal owls that I know of in the area.

Tonight I got my answer – in nearly the same spot as one of my other sightings, again well after sunset, it appeared. Actually, first, I heard it. It emits almost non-stop little squeaks, similar to a small little dog toy being squeezed over and over again. Very faint, but when the bird flies close-by, which it does, it was audible. Tonight I got out my small LED flashlight when I realized the bird had landed on the trail ahead of me – a common poorwill!

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The last one that I saw was east of San Jose in the mountains back in the Spring, and I was able to get a much better picture of it at that time (see here). Very cool little creatures! I hope it (or they) survive(s) this area – it’s not easy considering all the great-horned owls who would be more than happy to make a meal out of this little one.